My friend, Paul , stayed with me for a couple of weeks after returning from Mongolia. Paul had been in the Peace Corps and had spent two years living on the Asian steppe. He spoke of cultural customs very strange to us, dances he’d learned, clothes he’d worn. He told us about foods and drinks very different than our own (like fermented mare’s milk). Although he had spent much time and energy learning to adapt culturally, the subject that dominated most of his stories was resources. “It takes forever to get ready without running water,” he’d said, explaining why he had to wake up so early. In the long Mongolian winter, temperatures dropped far below freezing, dipping into the -30s and -40s. Paul lived in a structure called a ger, something like a round, felt tent. The yurts you can rent at state parks and campgrounds are very similar. Inside, he had a bed and a woodstove, and some of the furniture you might see in a bedroom. Outside was the outhouse toilet. He had no running water, no refrigerator, and no microwave, just the woodstove that heated his abode and barrels to carry water from the source. In these extremely cold temperatures, and with very few modern amenities, most of Paul’s time was spent cutting wood and feeding the fire. At the bar, back here in Springfield, he pointed to a scar on his hand and told a story. Upon arriving home from a morning run, he began to split wood for his fire. Slipping with the axe in his hand, the blade went through the leather glove, and the side of his finger. The fix, two stitches without anesthetic. The result, a (pretty cool) scar on his index finger.

Hearing stories like these, I began to see the modern conveniences we take for granted in a new light. While I may never have to get stitched up Mongolian style, we all have to consider our resources carefully. Most of us have heat and cooling in our homes, food whenever we want it, and water that comes out of the tap. However, just because our water is cheap and runs straight into our homes doesn’t mean we should be careless with it. Most of us would think it unwise to run the air conditioning with all the windows and doors of the house open, yet we often watch safe, clean, convenient, and available drinking water barrel down the drain as we dry a dish or turn on the stove while the sink runs on. It is up to us to conserve these resources. We may be living in abundance now, but who knows what the future will hold. This summer’s drought has shown us that we face a real risk of water shortage and serious consequences. It’s time that we plan ahead, conserve water now like we should, rather than later when we must. Next time you flush a toilet, shave with hot water right out of the sink, or drink from a fountain, think of what life would be like without this wonderful supply of clean and safe water. And who knows, maybe we could all benefit from a little time in a ger.

Rob Hunt
Watershed Center Coordinator